Food & drink Career Pathways & Advice
Got a chocolate on your desk? Pick it up for a second and have a look. Every bit of it has been put together by professionals in the food and drink industry, from the recipe, seasonings, size and shape to the packaging and machines that produced the finished product.
There are many more career options in the food and drink industry than you might think. Whether you're interested in the science side that creates the magic, delicious food we all love, the procurement side that obtains the materials needed at the best possible costs, the food manufacturing side that maintains machines and production lines, the design side that makes sure it looks appealing from casing to crumb, or the sales and marketing side that promotes the product to the rest of the country, you can use your skills to their best advantage in this sector.
This industry covers everything from science and manufacturing to marketing and HR – so whatever your interests, the food and drink sector is likely to have a role for you. Here are just some of the areas that you could work in:
- Food tasting
- Food science
- Quality control
Most jobs in this industry require good teamwork and management skills, which will help you progress to higher roles. It’s also important to show a lot of motivation and self-discipline, particularly if you need to get further certificates and qualifications.
Some of the skills that are useful for a career in food and drink include:
- Commercial Awareness
- Time Management
According to the Graduate Recruitment Bureau (GRB), 96% of the food and drink sector is made up of small and medium sized enterprises – so there is a lot of opportunity outside of the well-known, multinational food brands.
The GRB also points out that, in the supply chain area of the industry, progressing to manager level can be achieved in around nine years. In retail organisations, progression is even quicker – a graduate can be managing their own store in three to five years. There is a skills shortage within food and drink, meaning good graduates can move upwards quickly.
The food and drink industry is also great for entrepreneurs, so if you’ve got a great idea don’t be afraid to drive it forward yourself.
Training as you move up in your career will vary across specific roles – for example if you work within HR you might go on coaching or legal courses. This training would of course not be relevant for buyers or those working in food science. The best thing to do is look at the training offered by various employers, and see if it matches up with the skills that are needed for the specific role you’re aiming for – this should determine whether the job is a good one.
Most head office roles in the food and drink sector, including graduate schemes, will start on around £20,000, more than doubling as you gain experience.
Average salaries* for certain roles within the sector are as follows:
Food sales executive - £28,000
Production manager - £40,000 - £60,000
Project manager - £34,000
Buyer - £25,000
Food manufacturing analyst - £30,000
Brand manager - £35,000 - £45,000
Business development manager - £30,000 - £35,000
Supply chain and operations manager - £40,000 - £44,000
*Source: The Grocer
Qualification requirements & subjects to study
For roles in food science a degree such as biology, chemistry, food science or nutrition would be suitable, whilst for more office-based roles you would ideally have a degree in business, management or any humanities subject.
If the area you want to requires specific skills, it’s likely that you’ll want to consider a postgraduate degree or diploma, or other relevant certification that can equip you with the knowledge you need.
How to get there
The essential nature of the food and drink business means there are always opportunities for graduates in this sector.
Areas within the food and drink industry that you could become involved in include:
- Food processing
- Product design
- Transportation/ distribution
- Nutrition/ dietetics
There may also be the opportunity to get on a graduate scheme in the food and drink sector. Graduate programmes give you a structured pattern of work, set goals to reach, and often offer the chance of a permanent job after the completion of your scheme. Schemes are likely to last between 18 months and two years.
Schemes are likely to focus on one specific area of business, e.g. management, finance or marketing, or combine separate areas in order to give trainees a taste of all areas of work.